In searching for a way to combine her joint passion for literature and women’s rights, 24-year-old teaching assistant and aspiring novelist, Abigail Jackson, from Lewisham South-East London, founded the Red Ink Project – a not-for-profit anthology which documents the female experience.
Launched in 2012 during Abi’s second year at Greenwich University – where she’s now a PHD candidate examining emotion and identity in post-colonial Caribbean literature –she ’wanted to give women a chance to express themselves under the banner of human rights’.
On a bus journey home, Abi decided to start the project once and for all.
A themed anthology published every two years, with the first year’s proceeds going to charity, the project champions storytelling as a way to ‘break the cycle of silence’, while its name represents that although ‘we all have the same blood, we’re treated differently’.
She said: “Sometimes it’s easy for us to believe that our story is the only one and by putting yours out there, you’ll never know how you’re affecting somebody else who’s reading it.
“One thing that’s important about sharing stories is so that people know they’re not alone and although not everybody enjoys reading non-fiction, I think biographies are so popular because we want to know about people’s lives and to see if there’s anything similar in our own.”
Moved to tears by some of the first submissions under the theme, Rites of Passage; Rights of Womanhood, which included stories of sexual abuse, ‘coming out’ and loss – Abi was particularly moved by one woman’s grief, which forced her to relive a painful moment in her own life.
She said: “This lady wrote a letter to her dad who had passed away around the same time as my grandma, so it brought up a lot of the emotions that I felt and things that I could’ve said that I wasn’t able to.”
Abigail’s grandmother died suddenly on the same morning she and her family had planned to visit.
“To arrive and be told that she’d passed an hour ago was very upsetting,” she said.
She added: “There was also another lady who’d gone through a very difficult childhood experience where she’d been sexually abused and at the end of her story she wrote a poem to express another aspect of how she felt. It was an unusual way of doing it but her story ended positively, she’s now happily married.
“I loved that all the stories didn’t stop at the suffering or struggle, at the end they overcame their issues and that’s very important too.”
Surprised by the success of the first anthology that began as a WordPress blog, Abi initially struggled finding women to submit.
Men showed more of an interest in the page, something she found ‘really strange but encouraging’, and it wasn’t until she posted an advert online through the Guardian that ‘things started getting serious’, which prompted a relaunch and brand new website.
Fast-forward post its release, Abi was daunted at having to reinvigorate people’s interest in the project for its second edition and explained how a chance meeting with Laura Bates, founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, helped renew her confidence.
She said: “At the secondary school I used to work at as a library assistant, the head of the library was such an activist. His issue was sexism in school and so he managed to get Laura in for the day. I knew I wasn’t going to get this opportunity again so I spoke to her and we had this long chat about feminism and womanism.
“Since then we’ve kept in contact and she’s said that whenever something is happening that she’ll retweet and share it for me, so she also gave me the confidence to think it was a project that could go further and get people’s attention.”
Now technically in its fourth year, submissions for the 2016 anthology, Out of Body Experience, an exploration of the female body in today’s society, have now opened.
Provoked by the need to address ‘something not quite right’ in conversations happening across communities and the media, current events such as the politicising of Nadiya Hussain’s British Bake Off win and comedian Nicole Arbour’s controversial, Dear Fat People video, all inspired this emotive theme.
She said ‘it went viral for all the wrong reasons’.
“There was just no compassion at all which is why people feel how they do about themselves.
“Although it’s personal, the female body is something that’s quite political.
Source: The Guardian online. Photograph by Linda Nylind.
“I loved Great British Bake Off so when Nadiya won I was happy because she was the best one there, but it was interesting how quickly features about her appeared in the media because ‘she’s actually British’ and wears a hijab.”
The proceeds of anthology sales will this time support Daughters of Eve, a charity founded by prolific female genital mutilation campaigner, Leyla Hussein.
Her 2014 Channel 4 documentary, The Cruel Cut, helped put FGM back on the national agenda and ‘debunked the myths’ that it was a strictly African practice not happening here in the UK.
‘Speechless’ after watching the hour long programme, Abi had already been following the charity on Twitter and was ‘impassioned’ by their work, but felt they deserved far more exposure.
With the anthology priced low at £1 for an e-copy and £4 for a printed version, Abi hopes to raise close to £100 for Daughters of Eve this year, but is unsure of what to expect when proceeds from the first book totalled half of this.
Down the line she would love to be able to transition from self-publishing to using an independent publisher, but more importantly, Abi wants the anthology to have a wider audience and regards it as a springboard for budding writers.
She said: “The main reason why I started the Red Ink Project is for people to have a platform but also for these women to share stories.
“They’ve been so brave and it’d be great if they had a huge audience so people can be touched in the same way I was.”
In between studying for her PHD and working with young people, Abi has recently submitted her own short stories for publication to an anthology and is putting the finishing touches on a novel.
She added: “I’m hoping to send it off to agents within the year, if I just pull my socks up and start editing it properly.”
Submissions for RED INK Vol. 2: Out of Body Experience close on January 1 2016.
For more information visit: www.redinkproject.org
Follow Abigail on Twitter here.